The Degree System in Wicca

9th March, 1999

Among more traditional Wiccan covens, there are several degrees of membership or initiation. In most covens, there are three levels of initiation. This is most likely because the person most responsible for the development of modern Wicca, Gerald Gardner, ran his coven using the three-degree system.

The First Degree Initiation involves learning and dedicating oneself to the God and Goddess. It is the period for learning the basics, which traditionally lasts a year and a day. One variation of this First degree is that some traditions require the person to study in an outer circle for a year and a day. It is in this period that dedicants learn the fundamentals of the Craft. When this period is finished, they are then initiated into the Coven. The requirements for First Degree Initiation vary from tradition to tradition. Those who have taken their First Degree oath are given the title of Priest or Priestess.

First Degree knowledge requirements might consist of learning the basics of craft history, ethics, and the wheel of the year. It would also be a period in which basic ritual skills are taught. The beginnings would also be made on the dedicants individual Book of Shadows. Attendance at coven classes and events would also be a requirement.

The Second Degree requires another minimum of a year and a day study. The candidate for Second Degree initiation would be required to build on the basics that had previously learned and develop new skills as well. An increased emphasis would be placed on personal development both mundane and esoteric. As the person taking Second Degree initiation is working towards leadership duties, skills in areas such as counseling, teaching and coven management would also begin. The title associated with Second Degree initiation is High Priest/ess.

The Third Degree may take longer to achieve than a year and a day. Those taking this level of initiation are those expected to show the skills required to run an effective coven and spiritual learning environment. At this level emphasis is placed on the mastery of ritual skill, including the ability to lead large groups and the ability to pass craft and coven teachings onto newcomers. The Third Degree initiate is expected to have a highly developed sense of self and spirit. Those who been initiated into the Third Degree have the right to hive off from the mother coven to form their own group (which includes the right to initiate others), or to stay with their home coven in the position of an elder.

Other traditions have other ways of organising degrees; for example, they might follow an elemental system (earth, air, fire, water and spirit) where skills and knowledge associated with a particular element are learned. They may have a greater number of degrees, four or five or even more. On the other hand, many covens don't use a degree system at all. They feel that the hierarchy associated with degrees reflects a lack of equality that they are trying to escape in other religions.

Many Wiccans from traditional groups feel that only those who have been initiated into a coven can truly call themselves Wiccan. This brings us to the next topic, coven versus solitary practice.



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